Sometimes it’s easier just to tell it like it is then give it a long introduction. Bells & Whistles, the debut album from Vancouver-based singer-songwriter Steph Macpherson, is a nice, pristine packet of songs, several of which may inspire some strong emotion.
There’s definitely a divide on this album between upbeat and sombre songs, and both are handled with the utmost care. The title track has a folk-flavoured melody and showcases Macpherson’s vocal chops quite nicely. If you listen, you can hear the slight quaver in her voice that works well with the guitar and drums. “In our imaginations we’re the kings and queens of nations,” says a lyric, and it couldn’t be more true.
“Bent & Unkind” turned out to be one of my favourite songs on the album, a more stripped-down song that reaches its apex with the line, “I’d rather be broken than bent and unkind.” The sentiment is a powerful one, more or less anthemic.
The album then takes a turn toward the more upbeat with “This One” and “Summer Salute.” The latter is loads of fun thanks to the chorus of vocals near the end.
When Macpherson whips out the piano, melancholy is sure to enter. “Something In You” is heartbreakingly beautiful, with sparse notes played on the piano that alternate with what sounds like the brushing of a drumstick on a drum. The closing number, “Open Book,” also retains the sombre atmosphere.
“East” is a bit of a different song on the album because of its confrontational nature. This song is almost like a direct challenge to an ex-lover and it’s the type of song I would have loved to hear a few more of.
The album works well as a unit and has enough variation to warrant multiple listens. It’s definitely worth hearing at least once.
Check out Macpherson’s website for details on how to grab a copy for yourself.
Top Tracks: “Bent & Unkind”; “Something In You”; “East”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)